By Adnan Haider
In the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, the students have been told by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to study through online classes. The measure intends to ensure that the time we spend in quarantine will be of use and our academic semesters would not suffer.
However, this way of education doesn’t seem feasible for students who just simply lack the facility of internet. It’s particularly true about the bulk of students from peripheral areas that do not have this access.
People in the mountainous region lack the basic necessities of life, yet, they are expected to walk along with the rest of the world
The students from Gilgit-Baltistan, a region that has been subjugated, marginalized and neglected both politically and economically, are rightly concerned about this situation. The people in the mountainous region lack the basic necessities of life, yet, they are expected to walk along with the rest of the world. They are stuck, presently, on the question of basic survival while facing constant manipulation and intimidation.
The same applies to the question of the online classes as well as the question of quarantine. First, the specific ways in which people have to choose between hunger/thirst and disease. This issue is not receiving any attention, despite the fact that it is, perhaps, the biggest issue faced by the majority of people in this country.
ٰIn contrast to the rural peasantry, the urban working class suddenly seems to be a privileged one. Most of the families in Gilgit-Baltistan have to channel water towards their homes and fields across the mountains for the purpose of domestic consumption and irrigation, solely, by muscular strength and without any technological support.
This water is distributed among different regions and each Mohalla gets only one day to use and store this important commodity. The question arises here is that while staying in quarantine and keeping the neighbours safe, how they would be able to work together to survive? The people in some areas get together every Saturday night to channel water towards their particular locality. This work needs almost 50 to 70 individuals to channel water in 10-15 km of stretch. Thus, the survival is at stake — the existential crisis of current desperate times.
The situation for these people is acting as a double edge sword, if they stay quarantined, the basic ends cannot be met and going out is a potential threat to catch the virus.
The issue of online classes, on top of the loss of livelihoods connected to tourism, other professions and the precariousness of agriculture work is now adding to the worries of the students. It’s really a grave impossibility for them to avail online education facility. As electricity has become a luxury, the people in the region get it only for 4 hours a day. They are hardly able to charge cellphones. Besides, there is no internet in most of the region.
SCOM, run by the army, is the only cellular service provider that offers 4G services and even that doesn’t work in most of the region. In this all-encompassing turmoil, the students here are being told to stay in quarantine and get an education via online. Some universities, when informed about the lack of internet and electricity facilities, resorted to other tactics. For example, some of the universities have conveyed it to the students that they will post material through the mail. However, the students are aware of the fact that even the roads are closed and by air, services are unreliable because of weather conditions. This desperateness on the part of the higher education institutions, especially the private ones, tells that online classes are only a justification to extract semester fees.
The students from GB, therefore, have no choice but to boycott online classes. The administrations of all universities especially the public must keep in mind the plight of the rural students and reconsider their decision. However, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan need to raise a collective voice to stop injustice being meted out to them even in this very difficult time.
Adnan Haider belongs to Gilgit and is studying Political Science in a private university in Lahore. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org